Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Posted 25 July, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 25 Comments

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Title: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Author: Thomas Hardy
Date Finished: July 24, 2008 #42
Pages: 369
Rating: 4.25/5

I started this book a little over a month ago, had to put it down for a few weeks, read bits and pieces here and there, and finally read the last 2/3s of it this week. Yesterday I couldn’t put the book down, but when I got to the ending I wanted to say every curse word that I could think of (actually not want–I did). WHAT?!?!?!?! I’m going to have to vent about the ending for at least a little bit, but I’ll try to avoid too many big spoilers until then.

Tess is the eldest child of a country family, the Durbeyfields, who has recently found out that they are decedents of a noble family line that is otherwise extinct (the D’Urbervilles). The patriarch of the family is wayward and can’t fully support the family as he prefers his drink, so Tess is sent to apply to their only other D’Urberville relatives–who incidentally have purchased the name and are not truly related to the Durbeyfields.

Upon meeting Alec D’Urberville, Tess is in a way swept off her feet and makes an ill-informed decision that changes her life. In the aftermath of the consequences, Tess leaves her home to work as a dairymaid where she meets Angel with whom she falls in love. Angel proposes to Tess but she refuses because of her “secret” past, but Angel tries unrelentlessly to convince Tess to marry him. But can Angel handle Tess’s secret? Will he be able to forgive her for what she has done in her past? Will poor Tess pay forever for a mistake she made during her otherwise innocent childhood?

I immediately fell in love with Hardy’s beautiful descriptions in this book. His sense of place and the way he is able to bring everything alive reminded me a lot of Emily Bronte’s use imagery in Wuthering Heights–part of the reason why I love her little novel so much. Even though it took some a lot of time to get into the rhythm of the book, the passages and narrative became easy for me to devour and get lost in. These are things that so far I have not been able to find in Austen’s books (although maybe I haven’t read enough of them), and I really cherished the richness of this book. This is one that I could read again and pick up a lot–I’m sure I really only skimmed the surface of this one and could learn so much more about the characters as well as some of the social situations in the country during this time period.

Another thing that I really loved about this book is that I could never guess what was going to happen. It would seem that everything was falling into place for Tess and what could Hardy possible write for the next 300, 200, 100 pages, but this book was a continual roller coaster of drama. I’m not sure that I really like Tess–I wish she was stronger than she is. And I never really trusted either of the male characters, Alec and Angel, although at times I really wanted to like one or the other. But even though I wish I could have slapped Tess out of some of her decisions, her despair and heartache were palpable, which made this story real to me.

****SPOILER****
While I thought really highly of the first 350/369 pages (give or take a few sections), when I got to the ending when Tess is with Alec and Angel comes back I couldn’t believe what happened! The ending to me didn’t fit with the rest of the novel and seemed to me to fit more in a crime novel than a beautiful sweeping tragedy. I was shocked at first when Tess stabbed Alec but then she runs away with Angel as if he had not just abandoned her for over a year (foggy on the time line)? And then the ending at Stonehenge? Really? Honestly, I felt that I was duped and betrayed and taken for a cheap ride. Seriously. Seriously? Basically, I truly loathed the ending of this book. :) Please someone help me understand!!
****************

Despite the crackpot ending I really enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend it, but I can see how some might be turned off by the long descriptions of the landscape and surroundings and menial daily tasks, etc. But apart from all of that it was a book that drew me in from the beginning and kept my interest all the way until the last page (my taking over a month to read the book has more to do with life than the book–it was too heavy for the busyness that was my July). I don’t think I’ll be picking up another Hardy book for a while, but this one will certainly stay with me for a long time.

25 Responses to “Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy”

  1. Thanks for the review! This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read too. Although Hardy is sometimes a challenge. I like his work but it does take a bit to get into the work. I didn’t read the spoiler so I’ll be surprised at the end like you :) I do remember seeing a movie, BBC or Masterpiece Theater…and while I don’t recall exactly what happened, I do remember it wasn’t your typical “happily ever after” type story.

  2. Thanks for the great review Trish! I have always meant to read this one and haven’t to this point. Several times I’ve almost picked it up at the bookstore. I think I will now. I didn’t read the spoiler because I’m going to read the novel. Your review has given me that extra push. I should have put this on my Classics Challenge list-oh well, next time.

  3. Sorry the minute you compared this to Wuthering Heights I was “NO”

    did NOT like WH when I read it. I don’t think the moody atmospheric style is for me.

    I hate when the ending of a book undoes everything good that it did up until that point. I feel like too many books do that. Yuck.

  4. *Amanda – I’ve only read Hardy’s poetry, so I was pretty unfamiliar with his writing style. It took a while to get into the rhythm of this one, but once I was there I really got lost in the writing. I hope you like the book–and the ending is definitely a surprise!

    *Gautami – This one will definitely stick with me for a while!

    *Chris – Everything was great except the last 20 pages or so when it seemed I was reading a different book. Very strange!

    *Dar – Funnily enough, at this point I’m not using it for the classics challenge either. That may change at the end of the year if I find myself in a reading bind, though. :) I hope you like it!!

    *Kim – Ha ha…not really like Wuthering Heights except that both give rich descriptions of place. I’m not sure that this one is really “moody” but rather Hardy just gives a very vivid sense of place.

  5. Great review, Trish. I haven’t read this one, but I would like to. I “accidentally” read the spoiler. I don’t know why. I’m so used to skipping over those when it comes to books because I hate having a book spoiled, but curiosity overcame my sense of reason in this instance. Now I want to read it even more. Haha

  6. “…but when I got to the ending I wanted to say every curse word that I could think of (actually not want–I did).”…you totally cracked me up! But I really am sorry that the ending was such a loser. I think the only thing I’ve ever read by Hardy is Far From a Maddening Crowd. It’s one of the few “assigned books” from high school that I don’t remember having strong feelings about one way or the other. I usually remember at least “loving” or “hating” a book, even if I remember little else about it, but his book obviously didn’t make much of an impression on me. Your comparison to Wuthering Heights makes me tempted to pick this one up though, despite the curse-inducing ending.

  7. You really need to watch the movie starring Justine Waddell. I believe if you see one important scene near the beginning it may help explain the ending. There is some room for (mis)interpretation of one part that is, I think, the key to it all. Let me know if you watch it. I’d be interested to know what you think.

  8. *Lit Feline – Ha ha–accidentally, huh? I usually try really hard not to even give any (at least big ones), but this time I couldn’t help it because I was so shocked at the ending. My husband asked me–did you expect it to end all happily ever after, and I didn’t–but not to that extreme! Maybe you’ll be like me and forget what you read by the time you get to this one.

    *Debi – My sister called me RIGHT after I finished the book and she got an earful. :) This was assigned reading for a lot of the kids in my school, but I somehow escaped it (I guess by being a slacker at that point in life). I know pretty little about Hardy’s other books, but I probably won’t be opening any up anytime soon–so much work!

    *Petunia – I think maybe part of the problem was that when I put the book down for a few weeks, Tess had just had her encounter with Alec and so when I did pick it back up I kind of struggled remembering some of the details in the first hundred pages or so. Somehow I completely forgot about the child dying and always wondered where he was or why Tess wasn’t with him until it was mentioned much later that he died. One day I’d like to re-read this one to pick up the little things I missed (or according to you, big things!!).

  9. Trish, I actually like the ending because we finally see Tess get fed up and do something about it! The men have taken every piece of her and smashed her pride so many times that she literally has nothing left but her passion and her name–and even that is confused. I think she goes back to Angel because she sees how incredibly sorry he is for what he caused during his time away. The Roman Polanski movie Tess makes this point very clear…maybe even more so than Hardy.

    The descriptions are unlike almost anything else I’ve seen in literature. It’s almost stupor-inducing. One gets taken away in the landscape. Hardy is at his best when he’s being vague and descriptive at the same time. It reminds me almost of a watercolor painting. He straddles the line between Victorian and modern fiction in almost every way. Congrats on finishing this big book!

  10. I’ve always been a bit reluctant about this one, but now you’ve made me curious. I remember reading a passage from it in a class once (the teacher’s point was to give an example of how sexuality was not alluded to directly back then) and his imagery was indeed beautiful. But then some people told me that the book was really slow and boring. People will say that about all sorts of books, though, and from what you said it sounds like it’s the opposite. I skipped the spoiler, but I really want to know what happened at the end to make you so frustrated!

  11. *Karen Beth – Part of the problem for me was that I didn’t feel that I could ever trust Alec or Angel after making up my mind about them and being so wrong. I was really angry at Angel for leaving Tess all alone–and I think that Tess was a little prideful and should have applied to Angel earlier than she did. When Angel came back I had a difficult time knowing what his true intentions were. Part of this, I think, is because I took so long to read the novel that I had trouble remember *exactly* how things ended with Alec and Tess in the first place and also some of the important character traits of Angel. Second, the ending all happened so quickly–the beginning is incredibly drawn out (not in a bad way), but the ending was all tightly wound in 20 pages or so. I felt that the ending was thrown at me and I didn’t have time to get used to some of the events that happened (particularly Tess all of a sudden being back in Alec’s bed and then stabbing him?!?). Hardy had developed everything so well up to that point that it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book in tone.

    Ha ha–but what I do I know Mrs. PhD… :) I think I definitely need to see the movie–you are the second to suggest it and how it might make a difference in my reading. And I think that even re-reading it one day would help me pick up on so much more. Life has been really busy with work–and I went to Argentina!! that my concentration throughout wasn’t what it should have been.

    Finally, my dear, I also fell in love with Hardy’s descriptions–they were simply beautiful!

    The end. :D

  12. *Nymeth – First, if you read this book you will know *immediately* what made me so frustrated. :)

    Second, I didn’t think this book was boring at all, but I can see how others might find it to be. Hardy’s descriptions are sweeping–and like Karen Beth noted above “almost stupor-inducing.” I’ve been neglecting my classics this year so far, so its been a while, but even still it has been a long time where I’ve read something so beautiful (in terms of writing).

    And in terms of plot, I was always on the edge of my seat (or couch)–there were many times where I was reading in my car before work (yes, extreme nerd alert!!) and could hardly pull myself away from the book because the events had turned. I never knew where the book was going, which was really fresh for me since sometimes these classics are so familiar to us without us having read them (like you and Pride and Prejudice recently).

    I don’t know what’s with me and these super long comments lately–in short: read it. I think you’d like it.

  13. I skipped your spoiler (thank you for the warning) because I’ve got this book on my list to read this summer. I’ve always wanted to read it and got a lovely hardbound copy a few weeks ago. I’ll come back here when I’ve finished!

  14. I had a professor as an undergraduate who said “Hardy is a great writer, but he’s not a very good writer.” We read The Mayor of Castorbridge, which is probably a better novel than Tess though I love Tess. You can kind of see what he meant inthe way Tess ends.

    Like you, once I got into the story I could not put it down. I read the last 300 pages or so in one day breathlessly wanting to find out what happened next.

  15. *Verbivore – I hate when I read spoilers, so I made sure to make it well. I usually try to avoid them altogether, but I had to vent a little. :) I hope you enjoy it–I think you will.

    *Bellezza – Ha ha, thank you. It was a busy month but things are back to normal now and I’m loving all my refound reading time. :) And I can’t WAIT to start some of that Japanese lit!!

    *C.B. – I haven’t read The Mayor of Castorbridge; I’ll have to check it out. Once I picked the book up again after my Tess Hiatus, I only really hoped to get it done by the end of the month (2 weeks or so), but I couldn’t put it down either! And I would have to agree with your professor about Hardy’s writing. :)

  16. This book has been on my TBR a while, but I just did not know much about it. Now I do. I think it’s going to move up the pile.

  17. Excellent review of one of my favorite books of all time [Top 25]……. Your site is terrific, Trish, and I shall add you to my Blogroll.
    All the best to you.
    I am a big fan of Thomas Hardy…. have read very nearly all of his books, and just recently, A Pair of Blue Eyes, for the SECOND time.
    — Cip

  18. *Jeane – its hard for me to say whether or not people will like this one, but for me it was a very compelling read. I hope you do like it!

    *Cip – Thanks for coming by! I’m not very familiar with Hardy’s works and don’t know the one you mentioned, but I’ll have to check it out. Until this I’ve only read his poetry.

  19. I’ve actually read this twice, but don’t have very clear memories of it. My 9th grade English teacher gave it to me, and I LOVED it. I got the impression she was waiting for me (someone like me, not me specifically) to come along so she could share the book. I reread it again in 11th or 12th grade. I don’t remember the ending at all. I always think I’d like to read it again, but realistically I probably won’t as there are too many other unread classics on my list.

  20. *Lisa – I can understand where you teacher was coming from–I’ve definitely been that way about books before–really wanting to share them with other people. And I can definitely understand the feeling of wanting to re-read a book but feeling like there are so many others I need to read first. I have a whole list of “would like to re-read someday” books.

  21. I didn’t get the impression that Tess fell for Alec at all. I got the impression that she didn’t know what was going on and was slightly scared of her situation, and he took advantage of that. Angel, on the other hand, really irritated me, but I get what Hardy was saying about hypocracy in the way men and women were treated. And I agree, the end was a little lame. Mostly just the Stonehenge part. It was like we’d suddenly gone from real life to a pulp novel.

  22. *Amanda – either way both of the guys in the book rubbed me the wrong way and I wish I could see more strength in Tess. I think it comes and goes throughout the book, but I guess we all have our weaknesses–maybe Hardy is just trying to portray her as being human? Ya–stonehenge? What the heck! :)